Reducing Backlog With Virtual Hearings
Alvin Municipal Court
- Located in Alvin, Texas
- 4 full-time staff members
- Manages approximately 5,000 cases each year
After closing its doors in response to the Texas Supreme Court’s emergency order to postpone all in-person hearings, the Alvin Municipal Court implemented Tyler Virtual Court in less than 24 hours.
Alvin is a growing Texas city of more than 26,000 people located in the Greater Houston metropolitan area. The city’s government includes Alvin Municipal Court, which processes adult and juvenile cases ranging from traffic offenses to drug arrests to assault charges. When the city suspended in-person city services in response to the pandemic, the City of Alvin saw an opportunity.
“Due to the shutdown, we had a backlog of more than 800 court cases,” says Sonya Cates, court administrator for the City of Alvin. “Also, here on the Gulf Coast, we are prone to hurricanes, tropical storms, and frequent flooding.”
We realized virtual court technology would help us keep our services going during disasters, and we needed to find a technology partner to assist us.
Court Administrator City of Alvin, Texas
The city wanted to find a technology solution that would help keep court services up and running during natural disasters, and it decided it would be the right time to consider offering virtual court hearings to solve the problem.
“We realized virtual court technology would help us keep our services going during disasters, and we needed to find a technology partner to assist us,” Cates says.
Rather than stringing together pieces of different technology to allow remote hearings, Alvin opted to go with Tyler Virtual Court primarily because of its integration with the court’s case management system (CMS). Built specifically for the justice system, the platform reduces redundancies and allows updates to be made to case documents in the CMS, in real time, from within Tyler Virtual Court.
Shifting From In-Person to Virtual Court in Less Than 24 Hours
Tyler Virtual Court is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and deployed in the cloud, which means there’s no need for onsite personnel. It also meant Alvin could implement the solution in less than 24 hours.
“Because of the fast deployment of Tyler Virtual Court on AWS, we were able to shift immediately from in-person hearings to online without any problems due to the incredible tech support we received from Tyler Technologies,” says Cates. “This application integrates with our existing Tyler case management system, which made things much easier.”
Additionally, the city broadcasts all virtual court dockets on its website to remain in compliance with state mandates for holding open court, and it is now in the process of completely converting to virtual court and stopping in-person hearings.
Eliminating the Backlog of 800 Cases
Court staff are able perform their tasks from home on laptops or other devices. As a result, the city quickly caught up with its workload during the shutdown.
“We can do everything online, whether it’s a judge arraigning a case or administrators processing case information,” Cates says. “Once we started using Tyler Virtual Court, we quickly eliminated our backlog of 800 cases, and we kept new cases moving forward.”
The integration with the court’s existing software also reduces the duplication of work. For example, a participating defendant can update contact information in Tyler Virtual Court and the changes would immediately be reflected in the CMS.
Resets are going down, and this solution also makes it easy for our staff to make changes to court dockets quickly when resets do occur.
Court Administrator City of Alvin, Texas
Reducing the Failure-to-Appear Rate by 60%
In addition to assisting in immediate social distancing protocols, Cates said long term Tyler Virtual Court will give defendants a more convenient way to attend court hearings. For example, defendants in traffic violation cases can resolve them without having to physically enter the court. Defendants can even attend arraignment hearings from their cars, using their mobile devices to join online.
“For defendants, we have seen a 60% decrease in the failure-to-appear rate because of the convenience of virtual court,” says Cates.
The City of Alvin also experienced a decrease in case resets, which happen when defendants have conflicting appointments.
“Resets are going down, and this solution also makes it easy for our staff to make changes to court dockets quickly when resets do occur,” Cates said.
Saving Thousands of Dollars Annually
Using Tyler Virtual Court, the City of Alvin spends less money on paper-based manual processes, staff hours, and additional in-person security.
“We saved $1,200 in the first few months of implementing Tyler Virtual Court, and we’re now seeing ongoing cost savings from reduced travel time and failure-to-appear charges,” says Cates.